The MBC TV drama hit "My Name Is Kim Sam-soon" is giving rise to a highly contagious condition identified as Sam-soon Syndrome that can empty entire streets of all signs of life and plunge sufferers into a topsy-turvy world where plain is beautiful and assertiveness does not put a woman beyond the pale.
The show, which hit the airwaves on June 1, recorded nationwide viewer ratings of 30.5 percent (TNS Media Korea) in just four episodes.
But on June 30, the program's 10th episode recorded national viewer ratings of a staggering 41.7 percent.
Last year, MBC's "Daejanggeum" and SBS's "Lovers in Paris" recorded highs of 57.8 percent and 57.6 percent, respectively, but "My Name is Kim Sam-soon" is the first drama this year to climb above 40 percent.
The syndrome first manifests itself in symptoms of empathy and identification with an entirely fictitious character. Single Korean women in their 20s and 30s are particularly prone to discover themselves in the eponymous heroine.
Sam-soon is lovable because she has so many faults. As another character, Jin-heon the restaurant owner, tells her, "You're attractive. Your charm is that you don't realize you're attractive.'
At 30, Sam-soon is almost an "old maid". Her face is pretty enough and her body on the plump side. She can be a little outrageous at times. Coming from a distinctly unglamorous home, she is the third daughter of a mill, has been dumped by boyfriends who wanted something more, and is in debt to her young boss to the tune of W50 million (about US$50,000).
She has a mountain of complexes. There is nothing spectacular about her.
And yet sufferers from the syndrome love her even as she reflects their melancholy selves.
Nor are they turned off by her brutally frank speech and actions. Watching her pound away at men with her fists, they see and, what is worse, approve of a character presenting a startling contrast to the Cinderella-like heroines of other soaps.
Sam-soon has some things in common with the actress that plays her, Kim Sun-ah, who boldly showed off her boyfriend when the drama's production was announced, just as Sam-soon would have done.
Her awkward accent, the product of a long time living abroad, is no longer a minus factor for the actress, who was brought up in Japan as well as in the United States. Instead, her unique slow pronunciation adds to the charm of the character.
The members of the program's online fan club are beyond recovery. "Sam-soon makes us realize that there are many more normal, hard-working people than there are wealthy and beautiful ones," they gasp.